A Life Well-Lived

Recently, I found this great quote from the famous 13th century Japanese-Buddhist text, Essays in Idleness, or tsurezure-gusa (徒然草) which I’ve written about before. It’s also the namesake of this blog of course. 😉

Anyhow, the translation below is by Donald Keene, section 7:

If man were never to fade away like the dews of Adashino, never to vanish like the smoke over Toribeyama, but lingered on forever in the world, how things would lose their power to move us! The most precious thing in life is its uncertainty. Consider living creatures—none lives so long as man. The May fly waits not for the evening, the summer cicada knows neither spring nor autumn. What a wonderfully unhurried feeling it is to live even a single year in perfect serenity! If that is not enough for you, you might live a thousand years and still feel it was but a single night’s dream. We cannot live forever in this world; why should we wait for ugliness to overtake us? The longer man lives, the more shame he endures. To die, at the latest, before one reaches forty, is the least unattractive. Once a man passes that age, he desires (with no sense of shame over his appearance) to mingle in the company of others. In his sunset years he dotes on his grandchildren, and prays for long life so that he may see them prosper. His preoccupation with worldly desires grows ever deeper, and gradually he loses all sensitivity to the beauty of things, a lamentable state of affairs.

It reminds me of science-fiction novel, Isle of the Dead by Roger Zelazny. In that novel, the main character, Francis Sandow, was born in the early 20th century, and has lived over 1,000 years through a combination of luck, technology and cleverness and is now one of the richest men in the galaxy. Because of his long-life though, he’s more and more paranoid about dying, and because of his wealth, he’s more and more paranoid about people trying to get him:

There’s me and maybe a few Sequoia trees that came onto the scene in the twentieth century and have managed to make it up until now, the thirty-second. Lacking the passivity of the plant kingdom, I learned after a time that the longer one exists the more strongly one becomes infected with a sense of mortality.

It’s one of my favorite classic scifi novels of all time because of its look into mortality, etc.

Anyhow, something to think about.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

3 thoughts on “A Life Well-Lived”

  1. History certainly does remind us how easy it is for the world to capture our heart, and difficult it can be to let go. Oh the sweet things we take in, unaware of their corrosiveness. Through habitual, rituals, one forgets change is indeed possible. Yes, it happens, even to this day. For when a heart is no longer focused on itself, it welcomes another two thousand years, that it might give, all that has been given it.


  2. I like saigyo’s(西行) 願わくは花の下にて春死なむ その如月の望月のころ
    Let me die in spring under the blossoming trees, let it be around that full moon of Kisaragi month.


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